Happy Monday evening, everybody. As you may have seen, the Lookout Santa Cruz staff has been working throughout the month to explore the issue of homelessness in Santa Cruz County.

We intentionally did this in February to coincide with the point-in-time count, which happened this morning. The count, which seeks to find out how many people are living without stable housing in our communities, is supposed to happen every two years. COVID-19 pushed back the 2021 count by a year, and the Omicron surge pushed that delay a few weeks beyond that. But it has happened, and our staff came along in the pre-dawn hours to observe and understand the process.

Please check out that story as well as the other pieces we’ve done this month. This complicated issue touches so many of us, and we wanted to attempt to bring some humanity, clarity and thoughtful analysis to cut through the noise.

Here’s what putting a number on homelessness looked like, from Santa Cruz to Watsonville & beyond

A group walks through Lighthouse Field.

Point-in-time: As Santa Cruz County attempted to put a number to its homeless population for the first time since 2019, Lookout’s team of journalists embarked on ride-alongs with some of those involved with the enumeration. See what our staff found here.

PREVIOUSLY: On the ground, Santa Cruz counts its homeless

Part III: A ‘proper place’ for the homeless? Push to spread the burden stirs NIMBY backlash

Can the unhoused population of Santa Cruz County be distributed more evenly around the area?
Can the unhoused population of Santa Cruz County be distributed more evenly around the area? Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Where to go: Neighborhoods are receiving little advance information about newly streamlined projects, as the state of California and the county of Santa Cruz move to rapidly build new housing. As Project Homekey-funded projects pop up around the county, we see pushback in Soquel, and maybe more widely. Lookout takes a closer look at the community whiplash and the likely growing pains ahead. Mark Conley gets the details.

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Part II: The struggle for families is real — and for one family, tragedy followed triumph

Mirella, Leticia, Jared and Marina, saying goodbye to Adrian.
Mirella, Leticia, Jared and Marina, saying goodbye to Adrian. Credit: Via Leticia Sandoval

Increasing issue: The number of families experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County continues to increase despite the efforts by local leaders to prioritize them. Lookout learned that the number hit a two-year high in January after spiking by 27% over the past six months. One family saw the hard work needed to get rehoused finally pay off. During their day of celebration, tragedy struck. Read more here.

Part I: Three universal truths about why this county remains among the capitals of homelessness

A car parked on East Front Street in Watsonville.

Longstanding issue: While we aspire to be the little hamlet where ocean, redwoods and farmland meet a forward-thinking, compassionate populace, we can’t escape the ugly truth: We are among the U.S. capitals of homelessness. Lookout’s Mark Conley and Grace Stetson explore why this is.

California to lift school mask mandate after March 11

Third-grade students wear masks during class
Third grade dual-language students wear masks during class at Montara Avenue Elementary School in August. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Relaxing rules: Local officials will retain the option of keeping mask rules in place. Over 1,000 school districts face making the decision on when to take that step. Our partners at the Los Angeles Times get more details here.

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➤ NEW FINANCE JOBS IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY: See all the most recent listings here.

Why flush California still takes child support from low-income families

Students in the CalWORKs Parents Program meet at Glendale Community College.
Students in the CalWORKs Parents Program meet at Glendale Community College. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Moving money: Even in a time of budget surplus, California takes money from child support meant for low-income families and keeps it in state coffers. The state generally requires families enrolled in CalWORKs, the state’s public assistance program, to open a child support case so that the government can later “recover” the cost from the noncustodial parent — usually the father — as a sort of reimbursement to itself for that cash aid. More details here.

ICYMI: Group protests Ukraine war in downtown Santa Cruz

Anastasia Zudlova outside the Del Mar Theatre on Feb. 27.
Anastasia Zudlova outside the Del Mar Theatre on Feb. 27. Credit: Dan Evans / Lookout Santa Cruz

Local protest: More than a dozen people gathered outside the Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon to protest the war in Ukraine — an invasion of the country and former Soviet republic by Russian military forces. Lookout’s Dan Evans has the details.

More from here & elsewhere

Woman arrested in toddler kidnapping at Sunnyvale motel that prompted Amber Alert (Sentinel)
An atmospheric river is headed to the West Coast (San Francisco Chronicle)
Juror regrets writing letters to Scott Peterson on Death Row, but insists she wasn’t biased (The Mercury News)
Accused shooter of Salinas officer who died in the line of duty identified (KSBW)

And that’s the way it was on this Monday night. Have a good night.

Dan Evans
Executive Editor

Follow Dan Evans on: Twitter, Instagram. With wide experience in local journalism and education, Dan joins Lookout Local with an eye toward having the publication both explain and improve life in Santa...